WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 — The Bush administration published a new strategy today on combatting weapons of mass destruction that included a statement, clearly directed at potential opponents like Iraq. Washington is prepared to "respond with all our options" if such weapons are used against American troops or allies.
The explicit warning was contained in a six-page, unclassified version of a new presidential document that outlines the administration's approach to countering and deterring the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. It underscores a longstanding American policy, but officials acknowledged that it bears considerable resemblance to a private warning that Secretary of State James A. Baker III sent to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, before the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
In a briefing today, a senior administration official said Mr. Bush has assigned many government agencies the task of enacting the new strategy. The official said the president was spending "considerable sums" on research into new counterproliferation strategies, beyond missile defense. But he offered no examples.
The strategy document said, using the initials for weapons of mass destruction: "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force — including through resort to all our options — to the use of W.M.D. against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."
That warning was not included in a similar strategy document issued by the Clinton administration in 1993. Mr. Clinton's approach relied chiefly on nonproliferation efforts, though at various times his administration repeated warnings that attacks using weapons of mass destruction would be met with overwhelming force.
The strategy revision published today and a longer classified version reflect Mr. Bush's reliance on counterproliferation, including missile defenses and, when necessary, pre-emptive strikes against states or groups whose weaponry could pose a threat to the United States. While nonproliferation relies on laws and treaties to restrain countries from producing weapons of mass destruction, counterproliferation relies on force or physical interdiction to stop them.
American officials pointed to the interdiction today of a North Korean ship carrying Scud missiles in the Arabian Sea as an example of a more aggressive counter-proliferation strategy.
Many of the details in the strategy, including state and local preparations for emergency response in case of a chemical or biological attack, are part of the post-Sept. 11 precautions that now seem familiar. The policy also calls for tighter controls on nuclear materials, better export controls, and the strengthening of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, one of the few international treaties that the administration has endorsed.
"What's new here is that we have a comprehensive strategy," the official said. "Every administration comes under criticism for not have an integrated strategy on issues like this. We do."
But that strategy makes no mention of the painful tradeoffs that the administration has already been forced to make to keep its coalition against terrorism together.
Pakistan, for example, has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and is widely believed by American intelligence agencies to have provided nuclear aid to North Korea. Yet the Bush administration lifted all nuclear-related economic sanctions against Pakistan when it needed the country's help pursuing leaders of Al Qaeda.
The strategy document says that "because each of these regimes is different, we will pursue country-specific strategies that best enable us and our friends and allies to prevent, deter and defend against W.M.D. and missile threats."
Administration officials say the document has been in draft form for months, and they contend the timing of its release had no relationship to the growing confrontation with Iraq. One official noted that Mr. Baker's warning to Saddam Hussein had come "when hostilities were imminent," a point the United States has not yet reached.
Nonetheless, the comparisons with the Baker letter are striking.
Mr. Baker recalled in his memoirs, "The Politics of Diplomacy," that in dealing with Iraq in the period leading up to the war in January 1991, "I purposely left the impression that the use of chemical or biological agents by Iraq could invite tactical nuclear retaliation." (In fact, he said, President George H.W. Bush had decided not to retaliate with chemical or nuclear weapons if Mr. Hussein launched a chemical attack.)
"This is not a threat, it is a promise," Mr. Baker recalled saying. "If there is any use of weapons like that, our objective won't just be the liberation of Kuwait, but the elimination of the current Iraqi regime."
The senior official who briefed reporters today said Mr. Hussein appeared to have understood the message, "and he didn't cross that line."
The current Bush administration has worried that deterring Mr. Hussein from using chemical or biological weapons may prove more difficult this time.
Mr. Bush has repeatedly stated that "regime change" is his goal. His aides have conceded in background conversations that, should Mr. Hussein fear for his own survival, he might be more tempted to reach for his most destructive weaponry.
Mr. Bush has specifically warned against that, and openly encouraged Iraqi generals not to act on any instructions from Mr. Hussein to use such weapons against American troops, Israel or other neighbors. The statement today, however, marks a more explicit version of that warning.
"The language speaks for itself," the senior official said, "and I think it does apply to any state that would use weapons of mass destruction against us."www.nytimes.com/2002/12/11/politics/11NUKE.htmlE-mail this article